Ah yes, the annual MACrifice game. No disrespect to Akron, or MACtion, but if there's one safe bet when it comes to Penn State football, it's that the Nittany Lions will usually eat a MAC team for breakfast (the 24-14 loss to Ohio in 2012 being the lone exception). The Zips are on the upswing after quite a few down years, but a trip to State College, their first since 2009, probably isn't what the doctor ordered for this program.
Oh, speaking of breakfast, we have a noon kick on our plate this weekend. The early tailgate isn't always the most enticing proposition - sure, you get to take a nap in between the postgame tailgate and going out at night, but daylight hangovers are their own special kind of hell. So I've provided a guide to the noon tailgate, and tailgating in general.
Last Season - Akron: 5-7 (4-4), Noon Tailgate: 4-0
The Zips finished strongly under second-year coach Terry Bowden last season, winning four of their last five en route to a .500 finish in the MAC. They were four yards away from an upset of Michigan in Ann Arbor last September, in one of the games of the season:
Akron has been steadily rising since Bowden was hired in 2012, and their victory over Toledo in the final game of last season gave the Zips some momentum heading into the offseason.
There were four noon games at Beaver Stadium in 2013, all Penn State wins, and the only known way to prevent the daylight hangover is victory drinks. This is good news for you.
'Crootin ain't easy in the MAC, what with the B1G around and all. Akron brought in the 112th-ranked class in the country for 2014, a ranking which is pacified by the eligibility of Ohio State transfer Se'von Pittman. The former four-star recruit left the Buckeye program in 2013 and landed at Akron (with the help of Jim Tressel, of course) last summer. Pittman had six tackles (two for a loss) in the Zips opener against Howard last Saturday, and containing him should be a focal point of Penn State's offensive gameplan.
Technically, it's still the offseason for tailgating (unless you threw your own tailgate in a parking lot at 5 a.m. last weekend, in which case, kudos to you). You still have time to upgrade that red Coleman grill (or at least clean it, you pig), or maybe get a cooler with some wheels for tailgate hopping. So take this week to check on your supplies, and make the appropriate moves in preparation for the season.
Akron brings a lot of production back on offense. Quarterback Kyle Pohl (14 TD / 10 INT / 56% Comp% / 5.4 YPA) has three of last year's top four receivers to throw to, and senior running back Jawon Chisholm averaged 4.7 YPC a year ago. 28-year old coordinator A.J. Milwee coached the Adam Dunn of college football offenses - if the Zips didn't hit a big play, they usually went three and out. SBN's Bill Connelly had this to say in his massive Akron preview:
Despite big-play potential, Akron had the third-least-efficient offense in the country on standard downs and the eighth-least efficient overall. The passing game was inefficient, and the run game was horrifically inefficient. Despite a lot of short passing and a lot of passing on standard downs (when the defense has to account for the run), the Zips just couldn't get anything going until they had to; the short passes were too short and not completed nearly enough.
The objective in football is to score points (aren't you glad you read this blog); the objective in tailgating is to eat and get summarily drunk. Since food slows the process of getting hammered, we'll consider alcohol the offense for the purposes of this ridiculous analysis. If you're a beer drinker, the timing of the game makes all the difference in the world. You're tailgating for a 3:30 p.m. kick! Awesome! Get a few cases of your favorite cheap, light swill and have at it, drinking games and all. The game's at noon? Well, hold on a minute. You've only got three or four hours to lose your inhibition before regaining it at halftime in Beaver Stadium. Maybe you want to pony up for something with a little more taste and a little more kick. Especially if you're coming back for the post-game tailgate. Not sure about you, but Miller Lite isn't my ideal celebration drink. Yanno, unless we're talking about a victory shotgun or two. [Ed. note: Vox Media, SB Nation, and Black Shoe Diaries do not condone reckless behavior involving alcohol. Drink responsibly.]
Chuck Amato is Akron's defensive coordinator! The MAC really is a rehab center for coaching retreads. The program seems to be working for Amato, because the Zips had an effective and aggressive defense in 2013, albeit one that was prone to the big play. Akron allowed 28.6 ppg to opponents last year and they return their entire linebacking corps along with a few key cogs on the D-line, adding Pittman to a unit with upperclassmen Nordly Capi and Cody Grice. If there is a major weakness on this side of the ball, it's the secondary - only one starter returns there, safety Johnny Robinson, and that could spell doom for Amato's boys against Christian Hackenberg.
Now then, grilling/heating of proteins. Breakfast essentially runs until kickoff, so why not bring a frying pan along for some bacon and eggs (both of which you can use as burger toppings, if you're so inclined). Now, if you're the one manning that greasy Coleman and you plan on drinking while grilling, please, heed this advice - don't wear a white shirt, especially one you would consider wearing again. You will get a grease stain on it. It will not come out. I lost a great Penn State basketball shirt to grease, so please, please protect yourself (if you can't tell by now, this is a guide to ratchet tailgating. Apologies if you were misled, RV-owning people).
I'll let Bill Connelly take this one, because there's nothing he says that I can say better and frankly I can't believe you made it this far without jumping ship to his preview.
The most positive aspect of Akron's special teams unit in 2013 was that opponents tended to miss makeable kicks. That obviously isn't a very replicable trait from year to year.
Everybody returns, including Bickley at kick returner and a solid punter in Zach Paul, but for a team looking for one more close win to crack bowl eligibility, special teams didn't help much.
The special teams of tailgating is, of course, drinking games/games that you play while drinking. Top tailgate games:
- KanJam - because you now have an excuse for hitting your tailgating neighbor's car with a frisbee
- Cornhole - really fun to say, easier than that beanbag game with the clown on the boards
- Flip Cup - no limit to how many people can play or how drunk you can get
- Dizzy Bat - some would argue KanJam or Cornhole is the most Dad Tailgate Game, but if there's one thing dads love it's showing their college-age kids how good they still are at baseball
- Beer Pong - "goddammit Eric, I'm not crawling under that truck to get the ball for the fifteenth time, let's just play Flip Cup"
- Tossing a football around, maybe running some routes if you feel like setting your beer down
- Assorted Card Games - just go home
Last Week: 41-0 W vs. Howard; C'mon, you didn't really tailgate last week if you were at home
Pohl was immaculate under center against Akron's week one FCS foes, completing 23 of 36 passing attempts for 308 yards, four TDs and no picks. The junior also led all Akron rushers with 48 yards on the ground. All said, the Bison didn't pose much of a threat at any point, so it's tough to gauge where the Zips are at this early stage.
Look, nobody will think less of you for not cracking a Guinness at 5 a.m. It's okay. We'll get 'em this week.
The Black Keys really are a good band. Just pretend El Camino never happened.
According to Wikipedia, "Many people participate [in tailgating] even if their vehicles do not have tailgates."